A federal judge Monday ordered Ameren Missouri to install technology to control pollution at the Labadie Energy Center to offset violations of federal law at a different plant.
The order was handed down by U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel in response to a Clean Air Act violation.
In 2017, Judge Sippel ruled that Ameren made modifications at the Rush Island plant in Jefferson County to increase energy output without obtaining permits. At the Rush Island plant, Ameren is required to install “scrubber” technology to reduce pollution levels.
Pollution control mandates at the Labadie Energy Center are intended to offset the pollutants released from the Rush Island plant.
According to the ruling, Ameren must use dry sorbent injection (DSI) technology, or a more effective control technology. The updates must be made at the Labadie Energy Center within three years.
The Rush Island plant must be in compliance within 4 1/2 years.
The Labadie Energy Center is the largest coal-fired plant in Missouri and one of the largest in the country.
“I will also order Ameren to remedy Rush Island’s excess pollution with ton-for-ton reductions at its nearby Labadie Energy Center,” Sippel said. “This remedy will satisfy the purpose of the Clean Air Act to ‘promote the public health and welfare and the productive capacity’ of the people, and it is narrowly tailored to address the harms created by Ameren’s violations.”
The Clean Air Act was passed by Congress in 1970 to protect the nation’s air quality.
Patricia Schuba, Labadie Environmental Organization president, said that she would like to see scrubbers placed on all of Ameren’s power plants.
“The decision is a small concession to those of us who have lost a loved one to heart or lung disease due to Ameren’s needless pollution,” she said. “No legal remedy can make up for the tons of pollutants they illegally released into the air we all breathe and the 800 individuals who lost their lives prematurely.”
“Scrubber” technology known as flue gas desulfurization (FGD) must be installed at the Rush Island power plant. FGD scrubbers have been widely used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired electricity generating units for decades, according to the judge’s ruling.
There have been excess sulfur dioxide emissions at the Rush Island plant.
Judge Sippel entered a 157-page opinion on the case.
The Sierra Club, the plaintiff, sued Ameren Missouri for violating the Clean Air Act.
According to the Sierra Club, scrubber technology will reduce emissions by more than 90 percent. The club said that exposure to sulfur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to the effects of sulfur dioxide.
In the judge’s written opinion, Ameren argued that it didn’t receive “fair notice” of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) legal interpretations and that there wasn’t any evidence that harm was caused by its sulfur dioxide emissions. The company said that the installation of scrubbers could be “burdensome.”
Sippel said that Ameren has received significant financial benefits by “making major modifications without satisfying the requirements of the Clean Air Act.”
Installing the scrubbers, according to Ameren, may cost between $650 million and $960 million.
Dr. Joel Schwartz, a scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health and a key expert witness in the case, was cited by Sippel to be credible.
The Sierra Club said that Schwartz’s testimony “estimated that between 2007 and 2016, the violating emissions from Rush Island contributed to as many as 800 premature deaths.”
The Missourian has reached out to Ameren for more information regarding the ruling.
Ameren also has been dealing with coal ash at its Labadie power plant.
Ameren officials said in late August the energy company will cap and monitor the Labadie power plant’s coal combustion residuals (CCR), more commonly referred to as coal ash ponds.
Coal ash, the waste product from burning coal for energy, can contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, chromium and mercury, according to the EPA.
The Labadie plant has two ponds that contain the coal ash from the plant.
The company chose an alternative referred to as “Closure in Place (CIP) and Monitored Natural Attenuation (MMA).” That means the company will close off the ponds using a lining to keep coal ash from the ponds’ basins from getting into the groundwater.
Ameren will continuously monitor the groundwater and release the data annually.
Ameren said it will take two years to complete the work needed in the project. It will cost $50 million.